This is something I’ve been asked over and over again, usually in regard to doing a painting, so I’ll talk about this area first.
Now, I do detail, so it’s not a matter of being asked this question because a particular painting looks as if it could have been produced quickly and the price could seem inflated, the question asker going on to work out in their heads an hourly rate for the work…a bit cheeky and inappropriate as it may be. I’d never even thought of this scenario and how irritating it might be for those who paint more ‘quickly’ than me, until I did a search for the title of this post and came across an article by Luann Udell on Fine Art Views which you can read here. It covers both a work of art or craft taking less time as well as taking a lot more time, and how to explain your working practice in both cases, by learning to respond to this question by explaining the many stages and processes in your work. My way of tackling this question, after initially sighing inwardly and taking a deep breath, frequently saying ‘I haven’t a clue, I don’t time myself’, is to go on to explain the processes, and on my art website I show works in progress that came from this kind of approach, because I do enjoy tracking the journey through a particular painting.
And in an earlier post ‘How do you price a painting?’ I talk about the time factor and how it impacts on those who do detail, specifically that if you took your time into account and applied an hourly rate, then you’d never get paid.
But the most glaring thing that that interests me is why people feel compelled to ask this question that artists hate answering, whether they took three hours to do a painting or three weeks.
My first thoughts are that it goes back to childhood. You’re in the classroom, you’ve done some school-related drawing at home then taken it in. Your friends stare at it, exclaiming – you must have traced that! – you defensively answer – no, I didn’t – then the next question is (yes, you’ve guessed it), How long did it take you?! Because they project themselves into your place and can’t imagine being able to do it quickly and for some reason time matters. And my response then was probably ‘not that long’. In those days I was complimented for copying drawings into my school notebooks, when others had to trace, not something I’ve proud of at all, but it was, ironically, quicker than tracing.
And moving away from art to studying, when I was doing my OU degree as a mature student, which was part time and by distant learning, I was always being asked – How long is it taking? When will you be finished? When the answer was, ‘Well, the quickest I can do it in is 6 years’, I got a sucked in breath from them, a rather you than me look on their face, as if I must be mad for bothering. I hated being asked this, because it completely disregarded why I was doing it, and it was also deflating. ‘It takes as long as it takes, and I’m getting a lot out of it’ was my response, after all, this was something I’d chosen to pursue for pleasure, satisfaction, as well as a personal challenge.
So, I believe that as adults we still do this projecting and those that ask the question are trying to conceive of doing it themselves – whether it be quickly (then they might be disdainful) or taking forever (where they are more in awe, or conversely think, why on earth would you do that?) I love taking time over a painting, and I loved doing my degree. I relish the processes, and when I get to the final stages – its a wonderful kind of delayed gratification – who wants instant? Who want to eat the cherry off the top of the cupcake first? (Okay, that might not be a good example, because the cherry is there just begging to be picked off first…but you get the idea) Where’s the value for the inner spirit in anything other than the sweet pleasure that comes from working with self discipline and waiting for your reward?
Right, more generally now, why does time seem to matter so much?
Admittedly, we do live in a time driven world, of work, looking after kids, travel and appointments, and a host of other activities which we have to cram into 24 hours, day after day. Even holidays are stressfully time-driven for many, so much so, I’m married to a man that hates them (and just try getting him to go on one is like an ant trying to push a boulder down the road). But time does matter in this sense. And then asking ‘How long did it take you to do that?’ derives from the more subconscious question of – ‘How could you possibly make/allocate all that time to do it in?
Answer is – in whatever spare time we have. And during this ‘spare’ time, we should take time out, and not clock watch. We should do something close to our heart, let time pass gracefully, get in touch with our inner selves that may have gone overlooked for a while, get in touch with this instead of the watch on our wrist. Get some colour into the greyness of our day of routine.
If you’re enjoying what you do, time becomes irrelevant, in fact it should be irrelevant – you’re immersed in your zone, serene or concentrating hard, you’re doing your thing and it feels like it’s what you were always meant to do. It’s your vocation time, rather than your vacation time. There’s no awareness of time until you happen to look at the clock and see that three hours have passed. Now, that, to me, is time well spent, and that’s why I haven’t a clue how long it took me to do anything that really matters.